Friday, October 31, 2008

Christian in Name Only

A DOUGHNUT HOLE is undoubtably a part of a doughnut, but it has no existence without the doughnut; its existence is conditioned by the existence of the doughnut.  Also, you can have a perfectly good doughnut without a hole, especially if it has a tasty filling.  Likewise, you cannot have a parody of Hamlet without there being Shakespeare's original play.

This same notion leads to the origin of evil:  it is the absence of good.  See these articles by Saint Thomas Aquinas.  It is for this reason that evil is self-limiting, and even eventually destroys itself, for the privation of good leads ultimately to non-being.  You can increase the size of a doughnut hole until the doughnut itself, and likewise its hole, completely disappears.

Enlightenment religion (a term I use for want of any better, actual practitioners would likely reject it)  is based on doubt and is essentially skeptical.  It attempts to minimize or eliminate truth-claims, especially those claims of a metaphysical or spiritual character.  It concentrates on the hole rather on the doughnut surrounding it.  For this reason, Enlightenment religion has to pierce an existing religion — any religion will do — as a hole in a doughnut is like a hole in a bagel, and cannot have an independent existence.

You can take so much away from a religion until all that is left is the name only.

Senator Obama apparently subscribes to this kind of skeptical religion. See the article: Obama's Religious Ruse: 'I've Always Been a Christian'.

It is hazardous sometimes to argue philosophy with a skeptic.  Confronting them with the slippery slope argument may actually convince them that sliding down that slope would be a thrilling ride.  Instead, we must perhaps encourage them to hold onto whatever faith they do have, no matter how small, and help it grow.


HALLOWE'EN — All Hallows' Eve — the eve of All Saints' Day — is a Christian folk festival that has roots going back to the Celtic lands, combining folk traditions commemorating the dead with Christian piety. October 31st was the start of the new year in the British Isles and it was customary to honor those who had died that year; while in Rome, November 1st was early fixed as the day that all of the Saints in Heaven were honored; later the feast of All Souls, praying for those in Purgatory, was added on November 2nd.

G. Thomas Fitzpatrick of Recta Ratio has a wide variety of excellent postings on the season of All Saints: Click here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Christ the King

Saint James the Greater Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Louis (Dogtown neighborhood), Missouri, USA - tapestry of Christ the King

Tapestry of Christ the King, located behind the high altar at Saint James the Greater Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pierre Laclède

Statue of Pierre Laclède Liguest, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

"I have found a site on which to form my settlement which might hereafter become one of the finest cities in America." — Laclède

Statue of Pierre Laclède, founder of Saint Louis, located on the grounds of the Saint Louis City Hall.

Pierre Laclède Liguest, (1729-1778) was born in Bedous, Béarn, France, and in 1764, laid out the town of Saint Louis.  Located on high ground above the Mississippi River, about 18 miles south of its confluence with the Missouri River, Laclède reckoned this place was good for trading with the Indians in the west-central continent, due to the convenience of river transportation.

The city of Saint Louis, as originally designed, is now primarily the grounds of the Gateway Arch and the adjacent Laclede's Landing to the north, and Chouteau's Landing to the south.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stained Glass Window


At the Vianney High School chapel, in Saint Louis County, Missouri

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


WE ALL want to be free. Humans have always wanted freedom from being enslaved, from being oppressed, from being denigrated, from war, from being starved, from being in poverty, from being violated, from having their property taken, from being killed; humans have also wanted freedom from taxation, from government power, from being married to an unattractive spouse, from being told what to do, from having their feelings hurt, from being around stupid people, from being around ugly people, from being around any people at all; some people want freedom to stay drunk, freedom to sell heroin, freedom to take what they want, freedom to brutalize anyone who annoys them, freedom to change all of society to suit their desires, no matter how much bloodshed is required.  Freedom, as commonly understood, can become the desire to do whatever.

According to the Church, freedom is an integral part of the human person, due to our being made in the image and likeness of God. But, Who is like God?  Not us, if we are in a state of sin, which is a rejection of the Good, the Commandments of God, and the laws of nature. Sin, we are taught, is a form of slavery which limits our freedom. We cannot be free if we are bound by sin. For this reason, the transformation of society is a perilous matter: traditionally, virtue and sanctity of individuals was critical to a good society, for even maintaining the status quo is difficult under the best of circumstances.

But Man, some say, is above the moral order, and God has no place in the world. But the object of the intellect is truth, and the object of the will is goodness: if truth and goodness are rejected, the intellect and will still operate, but in a disordered fashion. The result of placing Man above the moral order is chaos.

Please consider the following interrelated chains of events, all set in motion due to man's desire to be free from the bounds of the higher moral order:
  • Rejection of objective philosophy - doctrine of sola fide, 'faith alone' - wars of religion
  • Machiavelli's Prince - Absolutism - Slavery
  • Creation of Church of England - dissolution of the monasteries - poverty rates soar
  • French Revolution - mob violence - Reign of Terror
  • Industrial Revolution - emptying of the countryside - urban squalor - Communism
  • Abolition of trade guilds - economic centralization - state-sponsored monopoly - politically created shortages
  • Mercantilism - Irish potato famine - a million dead
  • Failed European Revolutions of 1848 - German Radicals emigrate to the United States - American Civil War
  • Italian nationalism - Italian unification - Mussolini and Fascism.
  • German Romanticism - Kulturkampf - Naziism - millions dead in the Holocaust
  • Darwin's "survival of the fittest" - Social Darwinism and scientific racism - eugenics, euthanasia, and genocide
  • Overthrow of Russian monarchy - Bolshevik Revolution - Gulag - tens of millions dead
  • Cartesian philosophy - mind-body dualism - Existentialism - Suicide as a leading cause of death
  • New Deal - Great Society - Dissolution of black families
  • Subjective art theory - conceptual art - the masses seen as 'philistines' - Brutal and iconoclastic state-sponsored art
  • Repudiation of Classical music by the elite - critical acceptance of Dionysian music such as Blues and Rock - "Death Metal" and Gagster Rap music - increasing violence among the youth
  • "Spirit" of Vatican II - rejection of Humanae Vitae - a million abortions per year in the U.S.
  • Legalization of casino gambling - development of casinos directed by the State - great increase in poverty, bankruptcy, and imprisonment of gamblers
  • Idolization of youth culture - values-free education - largest prison population in history
  • Back-to-Nature movement - Environmentalism - "Population wars" kill millions
  • Culture wars of 1990s - "Gay Marriage" - Obama candidacy for President - ???
The "Liberal paradox" states that it is impossible to organize a society that simultaneously guarantees unbounded freedom of thought and action, equality of opportunity or outcomes, and political liberty.  The end result of liberty, when it is placed above the moral order, is tyranny and death.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Great Political Debate

On October 15th, 1858, the seventh and final debate between the Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Steven A. Douglas took place at the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois, located approximately 23 steamboat miles north of the wharf in Saint Louis, Missouri. This historic debate between the candidates for an Illinois seat in the United States Senate drew intense national press coverage, with newspapers printing the entire debate texts, as well as large numbers of people attending from neighboring states.

Lincoln lost this election bid, but he published the texts of the debates in a popular book, and this fame helped lead to his nomination as the Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States in 1860, again being matched against Douglas of the Democrats.

The central topic of the debates was slavery, with Lincoln arguing that blacks had the same rights as whites, and with Douglas taking the view that the legality of slavery was to be decided by each individual State. Both candidates married into slave-holding families.

Douglas here shows his faith in the democratic process:
Suppose the doctrine advocated by Mr. Lincoln and the Abolitionists of this day had prevailed when the Constitution was made, what would have been the result? Imagine for a moment that Mr. Lincoln had been a member of the Convention that framed the Constitution of the United States, and that when its members were about to sign that wonderful document, he had arisen in that Convention as he did at Springfield this summer, and, addressing himself to the President, had said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand; this Government, divided into Free and Slave States cannot endure, they must all be free or all be slave; they must all be one thing, or all the other,—otherwise, it is a violation of the law of God, and cannot continue to exist;”—suppose Mr. Lincoln had convinced that body of sages that that doctrine was sound, what would have been the result? Remember that the Union was then composed of thirteen States, twelve of which were slaveholding and one free. Do you think that the one Free State would have outvoted the twelve slaveholding States, and thus have secured the abolition of slavery? On the other hand, would not the twelve slaveholding States have outvoted the one free State, and thus have fastened slavery, by a constitutional provision, on every foot of the American Republic forever? You see that if this Abolition doctrine of Mr. Lincoln had prevailed when the Government was made, it would have established slavery as a permanent institution in all the States, whether they wanted it or not; and the question for us to determine in Illinois now as one of the Free States, is whether or not we are willing, having become the majority section, to enforce a doctrine on the minority which we would have resisted with our heart’s blood had it been attempted on us when we were in a minority. How has the South lost her power as the majority section in this Union, and how have the Free States gained it, except under the operation of that principle which declares the right of the people of each State and each Territory to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way? It was under that principle that slavery was abolished in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; it was under that principle that one-half of the slaveholding States became free; it was under that principle that the number of Free States increased until, from being one out of twelve States, we have grown to be the majority of States of the whole Union, with the power to control the House of Representatives and Senate, and the power, consequently, to elect a President by Northern votes, without the aid of a Southern State. Having obtained this power under the operation of that great principle, are you now prepared to abandon the principle and declare that merely because we have the power you will wage a war against the Southern States and their institutions until you force them to abolish slavery everywhere?
And further:
I hold that it is a violation of the fundamental principles of this Government to throw the weight of Federal power into the scale, either in favor of the Free or the Slave States. Equality among all the States of this Union is a fundamental principle in our political system. We have no more right to throw the weight of the Federal Government into the scale in favor of the slaveholding than the Free States, and last of all should our friends in the South consent for a moment that Congress should withhold its powers either way when they know that there is a majority against them in both Houses of Congress.
Douglas then gives us his view on race, holding that the rights of the Declaration only hold for white men; however, he says that blacks have rights also, but are to be decided democratically by each state:
But the Abolition party really think that under the Declaration of Independence the negro is equal to the white man, and that negro equality is an inalienable right conferred by the Almighty, and hence that all human laws in violation of it are null and void. With such men it is no use for me to argue. I hold that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had no reference to negroes at all when they declared all men to be created equal. They did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee Islanders, nor any other barbarous race. They were speaking of white men. They alluded to men of European birth and European descent,—to white men, and to none others,—when they declared that doctrine. I hold that this Government was established on the white basis. It was established by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men, and none others. But it does not follow, by any means, that merely because the negro is not a citizen, and merely because he is not our equal, that, therefore, he should be a slave. On the contrary it does follow that we ought to extend to the negro race, and to all other dependent races, all the rights, all the privileges, and all the immunities which they can exercise consistently with the safety of society. Humanity requires that we should give them all these privileges; Christianity commands that we should extend those privileges to them. The question then arises, what are those privileges, and what is the nature and extent of them. My answer is, that that is a question which each State must answer for itself. We in Illinois have decided it for ourselves. We tried slavery, kept it up for twelve years, and finding that it was not profitable, we abolished it for that reason, and became a Free State. We adopted in its stead the policy that a negro in this State shall not be a slave and shall not be a citizen. We have a right to adopt that policy. For my part, I think it is a wise and sound policy for us. You in Missouri must judge for yourselves whether it is a wise policy for you. If you choose to follow our example, very good; if you reject it, still well,—it is your business, not ours. So with Kentucky. Let Kentucky adopt a policy to suit herself. If we do not like it we will keep away from it; and if she does not like ours, let her stay at home, mind her own business, and let us alone. If the people of all the States will act on that great principle, and each State mind its own business, attend to its own affairs, take care of its own negroes, and not meddle with its neighbors, then there will be peace between the North and the South, the East and the West, throughout the whole Union.
A little more than a year after this debate, the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life gave a purportedly rational basis for what ultimately became scientific racism.

In his response to Douglas, Lincoln reasserts that the freedoms recognized in the Declaration of Independence have always been understood to apply to all men, black as well as white:
At Galesburgh, the other day, I said in answer to Judge Douglas, that three years ago there never had been a man, so far as I knew or believed, in the whole world, who had said that the Declaration of Independence did not include negroes in the term “all men.” I reassert it to-day. I assert that Judge Douglas and all his friends may search the whole records of the country, and it will be a matter of great astonishment to me if they shall be able to find that one human being three years ago had ever uttered the astounding sentiment that the term “all men” in the Declaration did not include the negro. Do not let me be misunderstood. I know that more than three years ago there were men who, finding this assertion constantly in the way of their schemes to bring about the ascendency and perpetuation of slavery, denied the truth of it. I know that Mr. Calhoun and all the politicians of his school denied the truth of the Declaration. I know that it ran along in the mouth of some Southern men for a period of years, ending at last in that shameful, though rather forcible declaration of Pettit of Indiana, upon the floor of the United States Senate, that the Declaration of Independence was in that respect “a self-evident lie,” rather than a self-evident truth. But I say, with a perfect knowledge of all this hawking at the Declaration without directly attacking it, that three years ago there never had lived a man who had ventured to assail it in the sneaking way of pretending to believe it, and then asserting it did not include the negro. I believe the first man who ever said it was Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, and the next to him was our friend Stephen. A. Douglas. And now it has become the catch-word of the entire party. I would like to call upon his friends everywhere to consider how they have come in so short a time to view this matter in a way so entirely different from their former belief; to ask whether they are not being borne along by an irresistible current,—whither, they know not.
The Dred Scott case got its start at the Old Courthouse in Saint Louis, where Scott sued for his freedom; this case went all of the way to the United States Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney declared that blacks could never have the rights of citizenship, a decision that destroyed his formerly outstanding reputation; Lincoln feared that this decision would eventually override antislavery laws in all of the states.

Lincoln then stated that the Founding Fathers expected that slavery, although recognized by the Constitution, was on its way to extinction:
I have said, and I repeat, my wish is that the further spread of it may be arrested, and that it may be placed where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction. I have expressed that as my wish. I entertain the opinion, upon evidence sufficient to my mind, that the fathers of this Government placed that institution where the public mind did rest in the belief that it was in the course of ultimate extinction. Let me ask why they made provision that the source of slavery—the African slave-trade—should be cut off at the end of twenty years? Why did they make provision that in all the new territory we owned at that time slavery should be forever inhibited? Why stop its spread in one direction, and cut off its source in another, if they did not look to its being placed in the course of ultimate extinction?
The Constitution, Lincoln noted, only refers to slavery in covert terms, so that future generations of "intelligent and patriotic" readers may never realize that the blot of slavery ever existed. Douglas claimed that Lincoln wanted a war between the states to eliminate slavery; Lincoln responded:
I ask you, when he infers that I am in favor of setting the Free and Slave States at war, when the institution was placed in that attitude by those who made the Constitution, did they make any war? If we had no war out of it when thus placed, wherein is the ground of belief that we shall have war out of it, if we return to that policy? Have we had any peace upon this matter springing from any other basis? I maintain that we have not. I have proposed nothing more than a return to the policy of the fathers.
Lincoln agrees with Douglas that each State has the right to make its own laws, but that discord has come from the desire to expand slavery into territories where it did not exist before:
When have we had any difficulty or quarrel amongst ourselves about the cranberry laws of Indiana, or the oyster laws of Virginia, or the pine-lumber laws of Maine, or the fact that Louisiana produces sugar, and Illinois flour? When have we had any quarrels over these things? When have we had perfect peace in regard to this thing which I say is an element of discord in this Union? We have sometimes had peace, but when was it? It was when the institution of slavery remained quiet where it was. We have had difficulty and turmoil whenever it has made a struggle to spread itself where it was not. I ask, then, if experience does not speak in thunder-tones, telling us that the policy which has given peace to the country heretofore, being returned to, gives the greatest promise of peace again.
Lincoln then states his political position:
The real issue in this controversy—the one pressing upon every mind—is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong. The sentiment that contemplates the institution of slavery in this country as a wrong is the sentiment of the Republican party. It is the sentiment around which all their actions, all their arguments, circle, from which all their propositions radiate. They look upon it as being a moral, social, and political wrong; and while they contemplate it as such, they nevertheless have due regard for its actual existence among us, and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way and to all the constitutional obligations thrown about it. Yet, having a due regard for these, they desire a policy in regard to it that looks to its not creating any more danger. They insist that it should, as far as may be, be treated as a wrong; and one of the methods of treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger. They also desire a policy that looks to a peaceful end of slavery at some time, as being wrong.

....On the other hand, I have said there is a sentiment which treats it as not being wrong. That is the Democratic sentiment of this day. I do not mean to say that every man who stands within that range positively asserts that it is right. That class will include all who positively assert that it is right, and all who, like Judge Douglas, treat it as indifferent and do not say it is either right or wrong. These two classes of men fall within the general class of those who do not look upon it as a wrong. And if there be among you anybody who supposes that he, as a Democrat, can consider himself “as much opposed to slavery as anybody,” I would like to reason with him. You never treat it as a wrong. What other thing that you consider as a wrong do you deal with as you deal with that? Perhaps you say it is wrong, but your leader never does, and you quarrel with anybody who says it is wrong. Although you pretend to say to yourself, you can find no fit place to deal with it as a wrong.

....That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
Douglas, in his response, fiercely attacked Lincoln's patriotism.  He said that Lincoln did not support the troops in Mexico, due to his opposition to the war, and was seen by the enemies as an ally.  However, he considered Lincoln to be instead a warmonger on American soil. Here are Douglas' concluding remarks:
If the people want the institution of slavery, they will protect and encourage it; but if they do not want it, they will withhold that protection, and the absence of local legislation protecting slavery excludes it as completely as a positive prohibition. You slaveholders of Missouri might as well understand what you know practically, that you cannot carry slavery where the people do not want it. All you have a right to ask is that the people shall do as they please: if they want slavery, let them have it; if they do not want it, allow them to refuse to encourage it.
My friends, if, as I have said before, we will only live up to this great fundamental principle, there will be peace between the North and the South. Mr. Lincoln admits that, under the Constitution, on all domestic questions, except slavery, we ought not to interfere with the people of each State. What right have we to interfere with slavery any more than we have to interfere with any other question? He says that this slavery question is now the bone of contention. Why? Simply because agitators have combined in all the Free States to make war upon it. Suppose the agitators in the States should combine in one-half of the Union to make war upon the railroad system of the other half? They would thus be driven to the same sectional strife. Suppose one section makes war upon any other peculiar institution of the opposite section, and the same strife is produced. The only remedy and safety is that we shall stand by the Constitution as our fathers made it, obey the laws as they are passed, while they stand the proper test, and sustain the decisions of the Supreme Court and the constituted authorities.
I leave any historical parallels that may be drawn between the issues of that day and our own as an exercise to my readers.  Douglas, I think, can be praised for his insistence on peace, order, and subsidiarity, while Lincoln can be praised for his support of first principles.  Both men were also obviously deeply flawed.  The solution to the slavery problem was soon settled by the bloodiest war in the history of the United States.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Feast of Saint Teresa of Ávila

From the first chapter of Interior Castle, a great work on mystical theology, by Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582):
I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions. Now if we think carefully over this, sisters, the soul of the righteous man is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight. For what do you think a room will be like which is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good? I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity. In fact, however acute our intellects may be, They will no more be able to attain to a comprehension of this than to an understanding of God; for, as He Himself says, He created us in His image and likeness. Now if this is so — and it is — there is no point in our fatiguing ourselves by attempting to comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it is His creature, and there is therefore as much difference between it and God as between creature and Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul's great dignity and beauty.

It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are — those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul's beauty. All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle — that is to say, in these bodies of ours.

Let us now imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; and in the centre and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul. You must think over this comparison very carefully; perhaps God will be pleased to use it to show you something of the favours which He is pleased to grant to souls, and of the differences between them, so far as I have understood this to be possible, for there are so many of them that nobody can possibly understand them all, much less anyone as stupid as I.
Here is a brief summary of the seven mansions in this castle which is our soul; Saint Teresa says that each mansion can have a million rooms, so much is the variety of each individual soul.
FIRST MANSIONS. This chapter begins with a meditation on the excellence and dignity of the human soul, made as it is in the image and likeness of God: the author laments that more pains are not taken to perfect it. The souls in the First Mansions are in a state of grace, but are still very much in love with the venomous creatures outside the castle — that as, with occasions of sin — and need a long and searching discipline before they can make any progress. So they stay for a long time in the Mansions of Humility, in which, since the heat and light from within reach them only in a faint and diffused form, all is cold and dim.

SECOND MANSIONS. But all the time the soul is anxious to penetrate farther into the castle, so it seeks every opportunity of advancement — sermons, edifying conversations, good company and so on. It is doing its utmost to put its desires into practice: these are the Mansions of the Practice of Prayer. It is not yet completely secure from the attacks of the poisonous reptiles which infest the courtyard of the castle, but its powers of resistance are increasing. There is more warmth and light here than in the First Mansions.

THIRD MANSIONS. The description of these Mansions of Exemplary Life begins with stern exhortations on the dangers of trusting to one's own strength and to the virtues one has already acquired, which must still of necessity be very weak. Yet, although the soul which reaches the Third Mansions may still fall back, it has attained a high standard of virtue. Controlled by discipline and penance and disposed to performing acts of charity toward others, it has acquired prudence and discretion and orders its life well. Its limitations are those of vision: it has not yet experienced to the full the inspiring force of love. It has not made a full self-oblation, a total self-surrender. Its love is still governed by reason, and so its progress is slow. It suffers from aridity, and is given only occasional glimpses into the Mansions beyond.

FOURTH MANSIONS. Here the supernatural element of the mystical life first enters: that is to say, it is no longer by its own efforts that the soul is acquiring what it gains. Henceforward the soul's part will become increasingly less and God's part increasingly greater. The graces of the Fourth Mansions, referred to as "spiritual consolations", are identified with the Prayer of Quiet, or the Second Water, in the Life. The soul is like a fountain built near its source and the water of life flows into it, not through an aqueduct, but directly from the spring. Its love is now free from servile fear: it has broken all the bonds which previously hindered its progress; it shrinks from no trials and attaches no importance to anything to do with the world. It can pass rapidly from ordinary to infused prayer and back again. It has not yet, however, received the highest gifts of the Spirit and relapses are still possible.

FIFTH MANSIONS. This is the state described elsewhere as the Third Water, the Spiritual Betrothal, and the Prayer of Union — that is, incipient Union. It marks a new degree of infused contemplation and a very high one. By means of the most celebrated of all her metaphors, that of the silkworm, St. Teresa explains how far the soul can prepare itself to receive what is essentially a gift from God. She also describes the psychological conditions of this state, in which, for the first time, the faculties of the soul are "asleep". It is of short duration, but, while it lasts, the soul is completely possessed by God.

SIXTH MANSIONS. In the Fifth Mansions the soul is, as it were, betrothed to its future Spouse; in the Sixth, Lover and Beloved see each other for long periods at a time, and as they grow in intimacy the soul receives increasing favours, together with increasing afflictions. The afflictions which give the description of these Mansions its characteristic colour are dealt with in some detail. They may be purely exterior — bodily sickness; misrepresentation, backbiting and persecution; undeserved praise; inexperienced, timid or over-scrupulous spiritual direction. Or they may come partly or wholly from within — and the depression which can afflict the soul in the Sixth Mansions, says St. Teresa, is comparable only with the tortures of hell. Yet it has no desire to be freed from them except by entering the innermost Mansions of all.

SEVENTH MANSIONS. Here at last the soul reaches the Spiritual Marriage. Here dwells the King — "it may be called another Heaven": the two lighted candles join and become one, the falling rain becomes merged in the river. There is complete transformation, ineffable and perfect peace; no higher state is conceivable, save that of the Beatific Vision in the life to come.

Teresa founded the Discalced Carmelite religious order with Saint John of the Cross, another great mystical writer.  For a full course of mystical and ascetical theology based on this tradition, see The Three Ages of the Interior Life, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964).

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Political Life of American Catholics, Part III

THE RECENT PRESIDENTIAL and Vice-Presidential debates have been subjected to intense scrutinization and interpretation.

Having listened to all of the debates so far, I must admit to being somewhat overwhelmed by the rhetoric, and brings up the subject of how ought someone judge these debates. Two paths of interpretation seem clear, at least on the surface: is the candidate one of us; or, what can I get from the candidate? These are rather superficial, and ought to be contrasted with judging the candidates on the issues.

Identity politics judges candidates based on culture, and ultimately isn't too bad of a voting strategy, the problem being whether or not the candidate is 'authentic' and will remain loyal to his culture. But political powers are intensely active in attempting to change cultures for the benefit of political concerns. We see this in the creation of the 'working class' both by industrialists and their marxist opponents, the creation of the African-American underclass in the 1960s, and the gay culture manufactured more recently. So judging a candidate by identity is problematic because identity has been made for the benefit of the politicians.

Sarah Palin seems to have the greatest identity amongst the candidates: she has a certain cuteness primarily found among conservative Evangelical Protestant women, along with Western rural self-reliance and toughness. Personally, I find her folksiness a bit grating (I rather prefer women who are more cultured and speak likewise), but this, in my opinion, is far preferable to the culture of left-feminism. Barack Obama is obviously not 'authentically' African-American (despite his efforts), but as I mentioned, that identity has been rather recently manufactured, and he rather has more in common with the general leftist political class in the United States.

John McCain and Joe Biden are alike in many ways, and their identity is best seen as 'Senatorial'. This is by design: the founders of the United States specifically created the Senate upon the model of the Senate of the Roman Republic, and intended that body to be continuing, deliberating, collegial, and elite, with its powers being balanced by the Executive, Judiciary, and the House of Representatives. Senators, due to their unique culture, are often seen as being poor candidates for the Presidency, with those from the rank of State Governor being more suited to the position. Republican Rome instead selected its executives according to the cursus honorum, or "course of honor", where an aspiring executive would be elected to a series of military and civil posts of increasing authority and executive power.

Biden, according to his style, is clearly the product of a good Catholic education; although it must not have been that good of a Catholic education, considering his policy positions.

Voting according to identity politics, as we have seen, can be problematic due to politics changing culture for its own benefit. Alternatively, each candidate can be judged on what they will give you. This is problematic due to the nature of the process: one hand takes while the other gives away, and ends up being the policy of Plato's character Polemarchus in the Republic, where justice is helping one's friends and harming one's enemies. Politics, then, is a struggle between opposing forces, and to the victor go the spoils of battle. Certainly this political model is why U.S. Presidential elections are lengthy and very expensive: people can make or lose plenty of money or liberty based on the outcome.

But it can be hard to determine which candidate will actually help or harm you, especially for those in the middle class. Obama in particular is proposing complicated policies that can be likened to a fog, with actual benefits and costs being rather ambiguous or indeterminate for the middle. The very wealthy and the very poor have clearer choices, since they will likely receive goodies gratis, and humans (and even apes) will fight more bitterly over freely-given abundance than for the rewards of their own effort. We ought to be worried: current policies favor the politically-connected wealthy and the dependent classes, and harm the more self-reliant middle class; the United States may end up having a culture like Latin America, with rich and poor and the few in the middle owing their position to the whim of the State.

As political and economic power is centralized, more people are forced into judging candidates according to benefits and harm, and thereby encouraging candidates to be demagogues.

It is often proposed that the most enlightened method of judging candidates is on the merits of their policies, and for this reason debates are presented. The opinion of undecided voters, upon viewing these debates, is given much emphasis and credence by the news media.

But being a moderate is often not being an adherent to high enlightened principle, but rather is siding with whomever is the winner. And much of political strategy is based on influencing these undecideds — politicians fight over the few in middle, although they do not want to alienate their base so much as to lose their vote.

Rhetoric is the tool used to convince the undecideds. Plato's dialogue Gorgias depicts Socrates debating Athens' greatest rhetorician. Whereas Gorgias states that his art promotes justice, Socrates rather likens rhetoric to a form of flattery: experts have no need for flowery language, while rhetoric is likely only to sway the ignorant. Rhetoric is then a dangerous practice if unrooted in truth and goodness; dangerous, that is, to the soul of the rhetorician, and to the bodies of those influenced by the rhetoric.  Rhetoric, according to Plato, is inferior to teaching.

We ought to consider instead fundamental principles, which are often left behind in the noise of the rhetoric of policy positions.  One general principle is that society cannot be just unless individuals are just; however, justice is both ill-defined by our culture, and we have the notion that we can set up just systems to regulate a society of unjust persons.  This is deadly, and leads to a society ruled by those elites who consider the nation to be their own personal plaything, with the bulk of the population being reduced to infantile dependency.

The Founding Fathers of our republic partly based the Constitution on Natural Law principles, as suggested by the sole Catholic founder, Charles Carroll.  However, our practical nation does not value philosophy, and so these principles were poorly understood and have now been nearly forgotten.  Good philosophy ought to be recovered as a key to the restoration of our republic. Catholic social doctrine contains such good philosophy, and is based on a reasoned consideration of the strength and weakness of human nature.  For more information, see the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Photos of Saints Peter and Paul Church, in Alton, Illinois

HERE ARE PHOTOS of Saints Peter and Paul Church, in Alton, Illinois, former Cathedral of the Diocese of Alton.  Located high on the bluffs in this Mississippi River town, it is about 23 road miles north of downtown Saint Louis, Missouri.

Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, in Alton, Illinois, USA - exterior

From 1855 to 1923, this was the Cathedral church of the Diocese of Alton; the Episcopal See was subsequently moved, and is now known as the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Click here for some photos of the present Cathedral, taken last year. This region was at one time a part of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  The first two Bishops of the diocese are entombed in this church.

The church was designed the architect Thomas Walsh, and consecrated by Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick.  Walsh also worked on Saint Alphonsus Liguori and Saint Francis Xavier churches in Saint Louis, and DuBourg Hall at Saint Louis University.

The clock tower dates from 1931; the interior was renovated in 1983 and 2003. Click here for a history of the church.

The church is undergoing repairs, and I hope to take more photos after.

Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, in Alton, Illinois, USA - school

The school's cornerstone reads "Cathedral School, 1908".

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Photos of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, in Portage des Sioux, Missouri

HERE ARE PHOTOS of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, located in the rural eastern Saint Charles County town of Portage des Sioux. It is located 29 road miles north-by-northwest of downtown Saint Louis, Missouri. Photos taken after Mass here on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, October 4th, 2008.

Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, in Portage des Sioux, Missouri, USA - exterior

This parish, and the town of Portage des Sioux, were founded in 1799.  Spanish Lieutenant Governor Zenon Trudeau and François Saucier founded this trading and military post on the Mississippi River after the American government set up a post twelve miles downstream in the Northwest Territory, gained in 1783.  But only a few years later, this land became part of the United States via the Louisiana Purchase.

A band of Sioux, fleeing their enemies, used this area as a portage between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  Their pursuers, not knowing of this shortcut, instead canoed down to the confluence of the rivers, thereby losing their quarry.

Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, in Portage des Sioux, Missouri, USA - nave

This present church building was constructed in the Gothic style in 1879. By that time, the population was predominantly ethnic German. According to the 2008 ecclesiastical census, this parish has approximately 135 Catholics.

Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, in Portage des Sioux, Missouri, USA - sanctuary

Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, in Portage des Sioux, Missouri, USA - stained glass window of Saint Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata

This stained glass window depicts Saint Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata, or wounds of Christ's Crucifixion, in his vision of a seraph.  Saint Francis (1181/1182 - 1226), Holy Father of the Franciscans, gave up worldly wealth to live a life of severe poverty and Christian humility. He was given the command in the crumbling chapel of Saint Damian, "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin."  Taking this literally, Francis raised the funds to repair this church, but the course of his life subsequently was to rebuild the Catholic Church as a whole.

Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, in Portage des Sioux, Missouri, USA - Marian garden

Blessed Virgin Mary in the garden outside of the church.
Pause and reflect, for the day of death is approaching. I beg you, therefore, with all possible respect, not to forget the Lord or turn away from His commandments by reason of the cares and preoccupations of this world, for all those who are oblivious of Him and turn away from His commands are cursed and will be totally forgotten by Him. And when the day of death does come, everything which they think they have will be taken from them. And the wiser and more powerful they may have been in this world, so much greater will be the punishments they will endure in hell.

— Saint Francis of Assisi, from the Letter to Rulers of the Peoples.
Shrine of Our Lady of the Rivers, in Portage des Sioux, Missouri, USA

Also in Portage des Sioux is this shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title Our Lady of Rivers, completed in 1957 in thanksgiving for the town being spared from a flood. Located on the Mississippi River above its confluence with the Missouri River, the town is in the flood plain of both rivers.  The annual Blessing of the Fleet takes place here, in this region popular with pleasure boaters.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Can't talk...

...too busy.

If I did have time to write, I'd put up an article on now not how Catholics ought to vote in the upcoming election, but how they ought to prepare to vote in future elections.  I'd also request information on art theory from those in the know, and I'd post images from one of my latest church pilgrimages.